Several people have asked me why I go by the pseudonym Personal Failure. I avoided doing this post because it feels a little masturbatory* to me, but people keep asking, so here we go.
You would not have liked me at 20. I don't like the way I was 13 years ago, in retrospect and at the time.
I grew up in a privileged world. Not in terms of money really, though it seems that way now. We were middle class (remember when there was such a thing?). If you had asked me at the time, I would have said we were poor, and I tend to remember it that way, but that's only because I attended private schools, so most of my friends were upper class, and in the comparison, we were poor.
I speak of privilege because in my little world, success was the only option. Success as defined by graduating from college, getting a "good" job, getting married, buying a house, having a couple of kids and living the stereotypical American middle class dream.
That's what everyone I know did. My parents did it, my friends' parents did it, my older siblings did it, we all did. My life was on a schedule: graduate from high school, go to college. Graduate from college, get married. Get married, buy a house. Buy a house, have kids.
I never even considered any other life, any other options. The weird part was, I saw people who weren't living that life every day, cashiers at the store, clerks at gas stations, janitors and the like, but I never really thought about how they lived, how they got there. If you had asked me about them, I would have said something fatuous about how poor people need to go to college and get better jobs and then there wouldn't be any more poor people.
Yeah, I was that person.
This was exacerbated by the fact that I am what school administrators term "gifted". I have an IQ in the high 170s. That and about $2 will get you a medium cup of coffee at Dunkin' Donuts, but boy did I think I was special. Everybody kept telling me how very special I was. Teachers, principals, my parents, they were so impressed. The fact that I was a judgmental, unimaginative little snot was unimportant- I was a gift to the whole human race, a success of Einsteinian proportions just waiting to happen.
Yeah, I believed that. And I just couldn't understand why I didn't like myself, why other people didn't like me. I was so special, so fucking special**, why didn't everyone, why didn't I, see that and respond with adulation?
Then I turned 22, all of 14 credits away from that next rung in the success ladder, and I started learning everything I never wanted to know about failure.
My fiance, who truly did grow up poor, and idolized success even more than I did, left me to take a fantastic job option in another country. He called me from that country to let me know we weren't engaged any more. My father took off with his girlfriend (who was all of 2 years older than me), leaving my mother, who had been a housewife her whole life, and my sister, who needed 5 medications a day to be able to breathe, with nothing. I dropped out of school to work two jobs to help keep them in the house, with food and medication. I drank, a lot. I watched my former friends graduate, get married and start the life I had expected from birth, while I was stuck in low-paying positions I considered degrading. I involved myself with an abusive man whose low opinion of me perfectly matched my own. I drank, even more.
I got sick, and then sicker. When I got to the point where walking across a room was a monumental task, I could no longer hold down the jobs I considered beneath me, and I couldn't even manage to keep Mr. Abuse.
In the end, though, it was the sickness that saved me. Eventually, I got diagnosed and that led to treatment. Where once only a big house in the burbs, two cars and a fancy degree would have satisfied me, walking without help thrilled me to no end. Success teaches little. I succeeded without trying for over 20 years. Failure teaches everything, if you're willing to learn. Failure teaches you who you really are, what you really believe in, what you really need, what success really is.
Yes, I am a failure on every level I would have judged myself on a little more than a decade ago. I celebrate that failure because only since failing have I become a person I can like. I like me, I like my failures, I like my life and that's that.
*Actual masturbation I am totally in favor of, but I despise masturbatory music and writing. If you want to write for your own personal pleasure, feel free, but don't subject the rest of us to it.
**I love Radiohead, hate that song.